Are you cursing the small print?

Do you have to search out the brightest spot in your kitchen in order to read cooking instructions? Or maybe you are playing the game of getting the magazine at just the right distance from your eyes.

Improving the lighting in your home will up the enjoyment factor of spending time indoors. A dimly lit home is unsafe, depressing and really not much fun to be in. Good lighting, like a bright sunny day can lift your mood and inspire you. Not to mention helping you read the small print so you can enjoy relaxing in your comfy chair with a good book on a rainy day.

We’ll show you how and where to put your light fixtures to help you see better and be safer in your own home.

How much is enough light?

Your rooms should have enough light so your eyes aren’t straining, but there shouldn’t be so much that you are squinting from the glare.

In smaller rooms and in bedrooms and bathrooms, use lights on dimmer switches. Or in areas where you need mood lighting, such in the dining room.

In main areas such at living rooms and kitchens it is useful to have 3 or 4 different sources of lighting. Think of this as layering your lighting levels. Layer using ceiling fixtures, sconces, lamps and accent lighting. I like to use dimmers on many of these and put them on separate switches for maximum lighting control. You can create real drama with a well thought out lighting scheme.

Be sure to size the bulb correctly to the shade so it doesn’t protrude past the edge of the fixture. The direct glare from a bulb can be harmful to your eyes and not very attractive looking.

Placing a 3-way bulb in your reading lamps is very useful. This is a bulb that can produce 3 different levels of light. You must use a lamp with a socket that works with these bulbs and can toggle between low, medium and high. These bulbs are available in energy saving CFL and LED format too. TIP: place your reading chair near a window to take advantage of natural light. According to a study in 2008 by the British Journal of Ophthalmology, natural light helps to lower the risk of cataracts in the elderly.

Read more on how to choose the right light bulb.

Understanding lighting jargon

Ambient Lighting: General room illumination is called ambient lighting. These are usually ceiling fixtures, wall sconces, pendant lighting/chandeliers, recessed/pot lighting, or table and floor lamps. Central ceiling fixtures can create shadows in corners and may be difficult to reach by people with disabilities. Having a variety of lighting at different heights will overcome these issues. TIP: choose fixtures that are easy to change the bulbs in and to maintain. Test how easy this is before you buy.

Task lighting: This is used to illuminate areas such as desks, kitchen counters, reading chairs, bedside tables, bathroom vanities and showers. These require stronger light as they are focused on a specific area where you need to see detail more clearly for a prolonged period. They can be recessed or surface spot lights, lights under upper cabinets and floor or table lamps with adjustable arms.

Accent lighting: They focus on points of interest like artwork, plants or trees, and architectural features such as fireplaces or display shelves. These are often smaller lights that are unobtrusive or hidden so they don’t detract from the highlighted object.

How to best light each room


  • Ambient. Bright lighting will ensure you see all the wet (slippery) spots
  • Task. Place around your vanity area. TIP: side lights don’t create shadows
  • Task. Use a waterproof light in your shower area
  • Night-lighting. Use motion-sensor lighting or try LED integrated switches or receptacles


  • Ambient. Bright overhead lighting on dimmer switches. Layer your lighting in this room with multiple fixtures.
  • Task. Place under the upper cabinets to light your work surface and/or use track or spot lights


  • Ambient. Put your general lighting on a dimmer switch
  • Task. Try swing-arm reading lamps on either side of the bed for flexibility (3-way bulbs are handy)
  • Night-lighting. Use motion-sensor lighting or try LED integrated switches or receptacles

Living Room

  • Ambient. Layer your lighting with sconces and overhead fixtures and use dimmer switches
  • Task. Place a floor or table lamp at a desk or reading chair with a 3-way bulb
  • Accent. High-light a beautiful feature of the room

Motion-sensor outdoor lighting at entries and along walkways promote safety and security. TIP: install lighting that focuses down onto the pathway to avoid blinding glare at night.
Accent. Spot-light a beautiful tree or garden sculpture and use to create a stunning front porch area

Night-lighting. Use motion-sensor lighting or try LED integrated switches or receptacles

Ambient/task. Install bright lighting using motion sensors or hard-wired to turn on automatically when you open the door

Light switches and receptacles

Install rocker-style switches at room entries and at both ends of hallways and stairs. Install switches at a maximum height of 48in/122cm from the floor.

Light switches with integrated receptacles are extremely convenient when vacuuming and charging electronics. This style is standard in Switzerland and I came to truly value their convenience. Place receptacles at a minimum height of 15-18in/38-46cm from floor for more convenience and less bending.

Read more about the placement of switches and receptacles.

Action plan

Consider hiring a professional to draw up a lighting plan for your whole home to ensure you have a creative and effective lighting design. On a more practical level they will ensure all switches, receptacles and thermostat controls are logically placed and easily reached.

You can begin to improve the lighting in your home today. Start with the areas in your home where you notice you need more light like a bedroom or reading chair. Add an extra layer of task lighting or general ambient lighting with a desk lamp or floor lamp.

Where in your house could you use some improved lighting?